Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
Movie stars are actors, which means that when we see them, they are portraying someone other than themselves. However, if that same movie star plays the same type of character each and every time they appear in a film, then – whether fair or not – we all begin to draw conclusions about them as people. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I have always assumed that Vince Vaughn is a giant asshole.
At least I did, until I saw Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show.
VVWWCS follows the progress of four comedians, a handful of special guests, and Vince himself as they perform thirty shows in thirty days across the country. With a description like this, you might be expecting a concert movie in the vein of The Kings of Comedy…and you’d be right. However, it is just as much a documentary about the comedians themselves, the stand-up profession and the nature of fame.
Vaughn is (obviously) the ring leader of this entire operation. He serves throughout the tour as the emcee, spokesman and “name” that gets people into the seats. In fact, the whole thing smells suspiciously like nothing more than a pure ego trip, and yet from start to finish he comes across as refreshingly irreverent and self-deprecating. When he calls in celebrity friends to beef up the show’s sketches, the resulting laughs are always at his own expense (A particular highlight here is when he and Peter Billingsley – the tour’s executive producer and Ralphie from A Christmas Story – act out a scene from the afterschool special they co-starred in nearly twenty years ago). Most impressively, Vaughn turns the spotlight away from himself and onto the four relatively unknown comedians who make up the tour; no small feat when the audience came to the show mainly because of his association with it.
Vaughn did an excellent job choosing the comedians to accompany him on this journey. Each has a very unique style. There’s the high energy guy (Bret Ernst), the ethnic “holding a mirror to our society” guy (Ahmed Ahmed), the impeccably written material guy (Sebastian Maniscalco), and the dirty “everyman” guy (John Caparulo). Throughout the movie, we are treated to snippets of their respective routines, and there are moments of sincere hilarity from each of them (watch out for Ahmed’s “Egyptian Princess” joke, Ernst’s roller skating routine, Caparulo’s Subway Restaurants bit, and the entirety of Maniscalco’s “standing ovation” scene.) However, for my money the best moments of VVWWCS are when the performers are off-stage, learning lessons about themselves and each other.
These “educational” moments come in two separate ways:
Show Business Tips – Throughout the course of the tour, each of the performers either learns, or imparts, a valuable lesson about the business. For instance, we are allowed to see a performance where Caparulo becomes completely unglued when one audience member heckles him, only to discover that the guy in question was shouting “Fuck Yeah!” instead of the “Fuck You!” that he heard. Vaughn is there to point out that, if you walk onstage expecting a confrontation, you are going to hear one whether it’s actually there or not. At another point, we see a good set from Ernst, follow him offstage where he proceeds to berate himself mercilessly for bombing, and then cut to audience members raving about his performance Ahmed takes us to the jail cell where he was detained for twelve hours in the aftermath of 9/11 simply for being Arab, even as we also hear him use the experience for laughs on stage. And perhaps the most endearing and enduring lesson comes from Maniscalco, when he discusses his plans for immediately after the tour ends.
Family Interviews – Time is spent with each of the four comedians’ families at various points in the movie. Through these interactions, we are given enormously revealing insights into who these people are, and why they do what they do. In this way, a bit about a gay older brother suddenly becomes a loving memorial to a deceased sibling, and the notion of telling jokes for a living all at once is a means to an end, be it financial security, the idea of a sacrifice deemed worthwhile, or the ability to be redeemed in the eyes of disapproving parents.
For all of the great things packed into VVWWCS, there are some miscues, most notably the decision to add “relevance” to the proceedings. The fact is that this tour coincided directly, both geographically and in timeline, to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This could have been overlooked, but instead the producers decided to bang it over our heads. The performers complain that they’re headed directly into the storm’s path, the producers kick up a fuss making sure everyone knows that a few of the performances have been turned into benefit shows, and cameras are brought into a relief shelter so the comedians can hand out tickets refugees from the storm. Intellectually, I understand that the filmmakers are going for a “laughter can help even the most dire of situations” message, but it still felt forced and unnecessary in a film that was not meant for deeper meanings.
Overall though, VVWWCS is a great experience, and a worthwhile trip. Vaughn does a terrific job setting the stage for his co-performers’ successes, and the emotion on their faces when the tour (and the movie) is over is real and palpable. You won’t walk away from the movie likewise moved, but you will walk away with a huge smile on your face. What more can you ask from a movie fronted by a (former) asshole?